My first passion was art at school. Now I doodle a dish as an idea, then a dish based on the doodle, and finally a Polaroid of the finished dish to put in another Moleskine travel book. It’s the only way I know how to do it. For example, I’ll draw on the theme of winter, game, cold, berries, orchard fruit – what’s going through my head is the repertoire of seasonality, of what’s available to me – then build 10 dishes for a taster menu based on the flow, temperature, the contrast of texture. It’s a beautiful journey with someone knowing their craft.
There’d be no seasoning in hell. Seasoning is the magic. It’s what separates each chef – getting that balance right and changing a dish from amazing into incredible. That could involve a fraction of vinegar, or oil, salt, seaweed. That’s the gift.
I’m not one of these guys who sat by his mother’s apron strings and watched her cook, but an early memory is of one of my sisters, Manjit, making coffee kisses and butterfly cakes with the wings on them, which seemed very exotic. We come from a Punjabi background, so food was usually spicy and vegetarian, although my grandmother or mother cooked meat at the weekends or for special occasions. My favourite is keema, a minced lamb curry. A special treat was sometimes having bangers and mash on a Wednesday, or getting fish and chips on Friday.
I used to really like the smell of Windolene. And exhaust fumes. Boot polish, too. I once ate shoe polish on a biscuit and my mum caught me and said, “What are you doing?” I was only about 10 and had it all over my lips and face, so had to have a bath.
I dream about dishes all the time. I use a voice recorder on my phone to get them down in bed or whatever.
I didn’t like spinach as a kid, because when we ate it at home, it’d stink out the place. Mum used a pressure cooker and I could smell it coming home from school. I’d think, “Fuck. Mum’s cooking spinach.” It meant your clothes and hair would smell for two days. But after leaving home, I loved it.
Dad had corner shops and I started working for him at 11, until I was 17. When I went to college – to study art, which I then changed to a craft catering City & Guilds – I still had to work afterwards in a shop until 11pm. I was kicked out of home when I started seeing Amanda [his wife], a Nottingham girl who’d left home at 16 and was a young high-flyer given a pub to manage after working for Shipstone’s brewery on a YTS. I went to her flat with my bags of clothes and I sat there crying. But by kicking me out they did the best thing ever. They thought that I’d run back for my creature comforts, as the only son of an Indian family. But then I realised, “This is my way out.”
I don’t care what my father thinks of what I’ve achieved since. Some people have suggested that I’m reconciling with my family and traditions by selling samosas at some fish and chop shops and Momma Bains curries in packs online, but I wanted my mother to have something to do in her 70s and I felt a bit guilty for not paying off her mortgage when I could have done. She’s a director, shareholder and consultant and comes in once a week. It’s been a new lease of life for her. The people who scale up her recipes call her “mother”.
Some of the people who blew my mind and really influenced my life and career include Mike Tyson, Amanda, Prince, el Bulli and a legend of the Nottingham chef community, a guy called Rick Murphy – his real name is Mick Walton. He was a real rock’n’roller, drinker and night owl who, when I was a 20-, 21-year-old chef and he was 20 years older, was a real mentor and tonic to me and had answers to all I was curious about at two or three in the morning. He was making every dish simpler and simpler. He’d say things like, “I don’t use stock any more – just a little water”, and, “I don’t have to taste things, I just have to look nowadays.”
Working at Le Petit Blanc [Raymond Blanc’s restaurant chain, which closed in 2003] was a very hard, busy period. I’d just got married and come back from St Lucia and moved into a B&B in Oxford. Monsieur Blanc was a brilliant character who can still inspire a whole team. I remember one evening, say 11pm, he came into the kitchen to show us how to make his mum’s famous crepes. Then he stopped and said, “Let’s have an arm wrestle.” I remember him looking at me after a couple of attempts arm-wrestling the other chefs, and he decided it wasn’t the best idea and so feigned an injury and went off into the night.
I have eaten all over the world with Heston Blumenthal and he’s the perfect companion because of his encyclopaedic knowledge on all matters of food and drink. I cannot share a lot of the stories with you, unfortunately.
Amanda and I didn’t have kids but we have rabbits. We started with rabbits when I bought her a small black one I call Tyson, after the boxer, who blew my mind. Amanda burst into tears when she first saw it. Rabbits are part of our life and of the restaurant. They could run around the garden when the guests were having drinks in the summer. It’s just something beautiful.
Amanda’s suggestion of a four-day week at Sat Bains restaurant improved everything. We had time to breathe. The staff came in happy and revitalised after having Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to take care of other things. There was no sense of burden. They could even put their feet up if they wanted to.
The most I’ve ever spent on a meal is probably in Paris at L’Ambroisie, with [fellow two-Michelin star chef] Claude Bosi. The bill can go anywhere from £700 to £1,000. Each. I have no problem with that, because it’s my thing. What’s joyous is sitting, ordering champagne, looking at the menu, asking each other, ”What are you having?” until you’re giddy with excitement. Three or four hours later you’ve had a phenomenal experience.
One very rude, obnoxious diner had turned up really drunk in a taxi from Sheffield. Eventually he said, “I’ve got no money on me,” and he was yabbering on to other guests who were there having a nice, joyous, celebratory time. So I asked a waiter to invite him into the kitchen, then we told him to fuck off and threw him out of the back door. I don’t know, or care, how he got back to Sheffield. Everyone was very happy he’d gone.
My favourite things
Japanese food, for its culture and craftsmanship – the highest, the most reverential. For one guy to make soba [buckwheat flour] noodles happily for 30 years – and that’s all he’ll ever do – now, that’s content.
Whisky and an old bordeaux or burgundy that smells like death and rot.
I love the L’Ambroisie in Paris for its classical romance and decadence.
Dish to eat
My partner Amanda makes a killer version of Lorraine Pascale’s pork and pear roast.
Source: Thanks https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/jan/16/chef-sat-bains-i-doodle-dishes-i-dream-about-dishes-all-the-time-life-on-a-plate